NFL Preview - N.Y. Giants (9-6) at Washington (6-9)
By Scott Garbarini, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The New York Giants will be hoping to extend a season that's taken a sudden turn for the worse in this Sunday's visit to Washington's FedEx Field, where the homestanding Redskins likely can't wait for a campaign marred by turmoil and disappointment to finally come to an end.
The Giants enter this Week 17 showdown between NFC East inhabitants with a chance of advancing to the playoffs, but their once-solid credentials are now on very shaky ground following a pair of crushing losses over the previous two Sundays. The downward spiral began with an epic fourth-quarter collapse to Philadelphia on Dec. 19, when New York blew a 21-point lead with 7 1/2 minutes to go in a 38-31 setback that eventually carried the Eagles to the division title.
Perhaps still in shock over that devastating defeat, the Giants were then throttled by a sharp and focused Green Bay outfit in a 45-17 setback last week at Lambeau Field. A suddenly-porous New York defense allowed the Packers to pile up 515 yards, while the offense continued its error-prone ways by turning the ball over six times, with quarterback Eli Manning throwing four interceptions.
That result gave the Packers control of the NFC's final Wild Card berth, which Green Bay can secure with a victory over Chicago in the regular-season finale. The Giants can claim the conference's sixth seed by besting the Redskins and if the Bears knock off the Packers on Sunday.
If recent history is any indication, New York has a good opportunity to hold up its end of the equation. Big Blue has won five consecutive meetings with the Redskins and overpowered Washington in a lopsided 31-7 triumph at New Meadowlands Stadium back in Week 13.
The Redskins had six giveaways on that afternoon, with embattled quarterback Donovan McNabb throwing two interceptions and fumbling three times in what will almost certainly be his second-to-last start in a Washington uniform. The decorated veteran was under center for the team's 17-16 loss to Tampa Bay the following week, but has since been relegated to third-string duties with head coach Mike Shanahan seeking to move in a new direction.
McNabb's controversial benching in favor of journeyman Rex Grossman was one of several tumultuous moments during year one of the Shanahan era, which hasn't produced the immediate turnaround the organization was banking on when it hired the two-time Super Bowl winning mastermind and traded a pair of draft choices to pry McNabb away from the Eagles in April.
The Redskins do have a chance to close things out on a positive note, though, and return home bolstered by an uplifting 20-17 overtime decision at Jacksonville this past Sunday that halted a four-game losing streak for the Burgundy and Gold.
Washington prevailed despite being without five starters on its league-worst defense, but the patchwork group rose up and held a potent Jacksonville running game to a non-threatening 78 yards.
The Giants come into Sunday's critical clash with injury concerns out their own, as talented wide receiver Hakeem Nicks has been ruled out with a broken toe and Pro Bowl center Shaun O'Hara is doubtful to play with a lingering Achilles' issue.
The Giants have a 90-61-4 advantage in the all-time regular-season set with Washington and as previously stated, recorded their fifth straight win in the series with their 31-7 verdict at New Meadowlands Stadium in December. New York swept the Redskins in both the 2008 and 2009 campaigns, outscoring the Burgundy and Gold by a 68-19 margin in the two games held at FedEx Field, and has emerged victorious in each of its last three trips to Landover. The Giants are 8-1 in their last nine tussles with Washington, and the team's current winning streak is its longest against the Redskins since a six-game run from 1993-1995.
The clubs have also split two postseason matchups, with the Giants' 17-0 victory in the 1986 NFC Championship countering a 28-0 Washington win in a 1943 NFC Division Playoff.
Giants head coach Tom Coughlin is 11-5 against the Redskins all-time, including a 1-2 mark while with the Jacksonville Jaguars from 1995-2002. Shanahan is 1-3 versus New York over his head coaching career, with the first three encounters taking place during his 14-year tenure with the Denver Broncos from 1995-2008.
Shanahan and Coughlin have a significant shared history, meeting five times between 1995 and 1999 when Coughlin's Jaguars and Shanahan's Broncos were regularly near the top of the AFC. Shanahan was 3-2 against Coughlin in those games, including a loss to Jacksonville in the 1996 AFC Playoffs and a win in the 1997 postseason. Coughlin has won two head-to-head bouts since, following up a 24-23 win over Denver in 2005 with the Giants' lopsided victory earlier this season.
WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL
New York went run-heavy in their first matchup with the Redskins and had great success doing so, with the backfield tandem of Ahmad Bradshaw (1213 rushing yards, 45 receptions, 8 TD) and Brandon Jacobs (774 rushing yards, 8 TD) combining for 200 yards and four touchdowns to key the rout. The duo works behind a veteran line that contains two Pro Bowl nominees in O'Hara and right guard Chris Snee and has provided excellent protection for Manning, who's been sacked a mere four times over the past eight games. Expect the Giants to rely on the running backs once again this week, as Manning (3759 passing yards, 30 TD, 24 INT) has been plagued by turnover problems and the receiving corps has been decimated by injuries to both Nicks (79 receptions, 1052 yards, 11 TD) and the sure-handed Steve Smith (48 receptions, 3 TD). Mario Manningham (56 receptions, 8 TD), who came through with 132 receiving yards and a long touchdown on four catches against the Packers, becomes the go-to wideout with Nicks sidelined, with special-teamer Derek Hagan (18 receptions, 1 TD) and tight end Kevin Boss (33 receptions, 5 TD) the secondary targets for the NFL's third-ranked offense (384.0 ypg). The Giants are 7-0 when rushing for over 120 yards this season.
The Washington defense has been a sieve for the majority of this season, but did manage to come through with a pretty sound effort against the Jaguars in spite of missing a host of important pieces, including standout pass rusher Brian Orakpo (52 tackles, 8.5 sacks) and safeties Reed Doughty (89 tackles, 1 sack) and Kareem Moore (64 tackles, 1 INT). The depleted unit was still able to stop the run effectively and generate ample pressure, sacking Jacksonville's David Garrard four times and inducing a pair of interceptions, including one from backup safety Kevin Barnes (13 tackles, 1 sack) that set up the deciding field goal in overtime. The reserve ranks will need to step up again this week, as Orakpo is questionable to return from his groin injury and both Moore and cornerback Carlos Rogers (54 tackles, 2 INT, 12 PD) won't play. The Redskins will still have corner DeAngelo Hall (89 tackles, 6 INT, 14 PD), the team's lone Pro Bowl representative available, as well as veteran tackling machine and esteemed leader London Fletcher (127 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 INT) manning the middle linebacker spot. Washington ranks 31st in the league against the pass (262.9 ypg) and has been nearly as dreadful in containing the run, standing 25th in that category (130.6 ypg).
WHEN THE REDSKINS HAVE THE BALL
Grossman (548 passing yards, 5 TD, 3 INT) will be making his third straight start in place of the phased-out McNabb and rewarded Shanahan's faith by throwing for 322 yards and four touchdowns in a 33-30 loss at Dallas two weeks ago. The ex-Chicago field general wasn't great against the Jaguars, however, completing a subpar 19-of-39 attempts with an interception. He'll be looking often in the direction of top receiver Santana Moss (84 receptions, 1041 yards, 6 TD), who surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for the fourth time in his career last Sunday, and reliable tight end Chris Cooley (72 receptions, 3 TD), with former Arena League player Anthony Armstrong (42 receptions, 2 TD) lurking as a dangerous deep threat who had six catches for 97 yards and a touchdown in the previous matchup with the Giants. Leading rusher Ryan Torain (681 rushing yards, 17 receptions, 6 total TD) didn't play in December's encounter with New York, but the brittle back has averaged 96.7 yards and a healthy 5.3 yards per carry in three games since coming back from a hamstring injury, adding a lift to an offense that's still an unwanted 29th in rushing yards (92.9 ypg).
The Giants have surrendered the sixth-fewest yards in the NFL for the season (305.8 ypg), but haven't performed to those standards during the team's current skid. The secondary was torched for 404 yards and four touchdowns by Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers in last week's forgettable defeat, with the Packers quarterback hitting on 25-of-37 throws and connecting on several long gains. New York had difficulty putting pressure on Rodgers in the game, but that normally hasn't been a sore spot for a defense that's tied for the league lead with 44 sacks and had four against the Redskins during Week 13, including a pair from rookie end Jason Pierre-Paul (29 tackles, 4.5 sacks). The first-round draft pick is part of a deep wave of edge rushers headlined by the end pairing of recent Pro Bowl selection Justin Tuck (75 tackles, 11.5 sacks) and Osi Umenyiora (43 tackles, 9.5 sacks), who have forced an outstanding 14 forced fumbles between them. The Giants' total of 35 takeaways trails only powerhouse New England for tops in the NFL, with cornerbacks Terrell Thomas (91 tackles, 5 INT, 20 PD) and Corey Webster (52 tackles, 4 INT, 12 PD) adding to that amount with an interception each of McNabb in early December.
The Giants will have all hands on deck for a game they absolutely need to win, so there are plenty of available options on hand here. Bradshaw and Jacobs are the best of the bunch, as both had huge days against the Redskins earlier this season, and Manningham becomes the clear-cut No. 1 receiver in the wake of Nicks' injury. It may be best to avoid using Manning, however, considering his penchant for interceptions and New York likely sticking to a run-oriented game plan. Grossman's history says he should not be trusted, but both Moss and Cooley are reasonable plays at their positions and Torain is healthy and should be getting the ball a lot on Sunday. Washington's defense should not be considered, and the 83 points the Giants have allowed over the last two weeks is concerning. Keep in mind that the Redskins aren't nearly as potent as the Eagles and Packers, though.
Though the Giants are clearly reeling and under an extreme amount of pressure with their season on the line, the banged-up and reorganizing Redskins present an excellent opportunity to bounce back. Washington's deplorable defense will have its hands full with New York's powerful running game, which should ease the burden on both Manning and his mates on the opposite side of the ball. The Redskins are in an evaluation period and are using this game partly with the purpose of shaping the offseason roster, while the Giants are in a must-win situation. They're also the more talented of these two teams at the moment, so look for Coughlin's bunch to come away with a victory that may or may not be enough to keep the season going.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Giants 24, Redskins 14
12/31 17:28:54 ET